"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, March 15, 2019

Marriage Is A Political Affair, So Why Should Donald Trump Get In The Way Of A Good One?–A Modern Love Story

A former classmate once commented that no friendship can exist between people of opposing political philosophies.  One’s politics, he said, are not simply partisan affairs, but matters of outlook, principle, and moral commitment; and such politics are exclusive. Progressive salons are reserved for those who believe the world is perfectible and progress towards a better place is contingent only upon effort and desire; and conservative drawing rooms welcoming to only those who believe that human nature – aggressive, territorial, violent, and self-serving – is permanent, absolute, and ineluctable. 

No such thing, said a mutual friend who had managed many potentially contentious friendships because of his more nuanced valuation.  What counts in a friendship, he said,  is humor, warmth, sociability, jocularity even; not petty, temporal positions irrelevant to the camaraderie of old friends, family relationships and love.

Both positions were tested in the relationship between Sally Higgins and Xander Parsons.  In an earlier era students of Wellesley and Yale would have had no such conflicts, nor any such irrelevant hurdles to jump before marriage.  Had they been born a generation earlier, they would have come from the same socio-economic class, shared cultural values and social ambitions.  There would have been no question about politics or political philosophy because the world they were about to enter was one of family, predictable profession, faith, and rectitude.  To many millennials such predictability would be a curse.  The very idea of two white, privileged, young people from the wealthiest families of Philadelphia and New York married in pomp and faux-religious ceremony, and sent out to procreate and live quietly and respectfully was anathema.  Multiculturalism was not only the byword of the day but the essence of a political and moral philosophy which was suited for the end of days.  There could be no progression beyond the idea of an inclusive, diverse world of diverse race, gender, and ethnicity.  To others such a stable, moral, and traditional life was anything but anathema.  It represented the best of Christian, Western, Biblical tradition.

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So Sally, inveterate progressive daughter of a scion of Philadelphia society whose family had made their fortune long enough ago to allow the luxury of liberal thought, found herself sexually attracted to Xander, a young man of equally prestigious heritage but whose family had changed little since the days of the Founding Fathers in which they participated.  Xander’s early ancestor in fact had been a confident of Hamilton and although he refused public acknowledgement of his contributions, was well-known in Hamilton’s inner circle for his rebellious insights into the nature of democracy.  Hamilton’s concerns about Jeffersonian popular democracy came from Xander’s relatives and proudly so.

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The conservative political lineage was unbroken; and while the Parsons were never firebrands or radical agitators, they made their influence known through out the two hundred years since the days of their patron, Alexander Hamilton. So many years of unquestioning fidelity to the principles of freedom, free enterprise, free markets, individualism, and enterprise meant that Xander was the chip off the old block – a young man who felt conservativism in his bones, never questioned the principles of Adam Smith, and other economists of the Scottish Enlightenment Hayek; nor doubted Voltaire Rousseau, and Rabelais for their cynical realism; nor abjured the modern-day principles of Ronald Reagan.

One might say that two individuals, bred for intellectual enlightenment, reason, and temperate judgment regardless of political differences should have no problem accommodating each other in marriage.  If political philosophy stayed within its prescribed academic limits and never strayed from pure reason, there would have been no breaches in the marriage – none of the recriminations, vindictiveness, and hostility that always occurs without solid philosophical grounding.  It is for others – the uneducated, easily manipulated, ignorantly gullible masses – to succumb to raw partisanship; but certainly not Sally and Xander.

Yet like everything else, academic certainty and solid philosophical reasoning goes only so far.  When it hits the reality of modern-day American politics, all bets are off.  And so it was with Xander and Sally.  There was simply no way to keep the contentious issues of the day – gay marriage, immigration, free speech, LGBTQIA rights – out of sight to be dealt with personally, quietly, and individually.   When Donald Trump signed an executive order penalizing all universities who abridged the civil rights of free speech, Xander cheered while Sally dissented.  Free speech is nothing but an elitist construct, she said, quoting Freire, designed to cloture righteous anarchistic speech and stifle the aspirations of the marginalized and oppressed.  Until white, privileged society relented and understood the plight of the black man, free speech was only a luxury.

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Xander was outraged.  His great-great grandfather had assisted at the very discussions that resulted in the Bill of Rights.  How could anyone, let alone his wife challenge these absolute, hallowed principles?

The same argument on gay marriage further eroded the simple trust and affection Sally and Xander had for each other.  While Xander quoted liberally from the family Bible – in fact the one on which Hamilton had taken his oath of office – citing Romans, Ephesians, Deuteronomy, and Kings to demonstrate God’s unhappiness with homosexuality – Sally quoted equally liberally from Lacan, Derrida, and even Eco to demonstrate the meaningless of text itself, regardless of how inspired it was thought to be.  The verses cited by her husband meant nothing, written as they were within the socio-cultural context of first century Palestine.  God meant no interdiction against homosexual relationships she said; the Bible was only figurative and demonstrative suggesting how conformity was more important than non-conformity.  Aberration was only a modern, erroneous concept.

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The burdensome, onerous and impossibly discouraging high rates of taxation imposed by Democratic administrations were antithetical to the principles of a liberal economy, Xander said; and only deregulation, and the reform of all punitive financial legislation could right the economic ship of state.

The doors to America must be open to the poor, the downtrodden, the hopeless, and the despairing, said Sally reciting the words on the Statue of Liberty.  Nonsense, said Xander.  If the doors were indeed opened, there would be no room for anyone. Every Nigerian, Ethiopian, Quechua, Jivaro, and Uighur – let alone millions of Salvadorans and Venezuelans – would be here in a jiffy.

Their marriage had taken place in the old Christ Church of Irvington, Virginia – the first church to be disestablished from Anglicanism and instituted as its own American Episcopalian authority.  Marriage in this church had ancestral, social, and political weight even more so than churches colonial Boston and Philadelphia.  Marriage in the Christ Church had significance – a union of two true, very American families in the spirit of the American Revolution.

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Yet even this special sanctification, this secular-religious bonding, this special marriage of special Americans could not allay the bitter infighting that occurred after the priest had pronounced his final benediction.

At first the Parsons were fine.  They went about their family and professional business as planned – he a lawyer at a well-known K Street firm; she a financial officer in a major non-profit; and soon the parents of two children.  There were no rifts in the marriage.  He had has occasional affairs, and she her Victorian dalliances, but nothing serious; until they broke their unspoken pledge of political silence.  They both knew how opposed they were on philosophical grounds and had decided long ago to keep the street fights of partisan politics off the table.  Yet is was impossible for Sally, given her intense loyalty to liberal causes to keep quiet.  It might be OK for a conservative who believed in the ineluctability of human nature and the perennial cycle of greed and violence to be indifferent or dismissive of Trump’s indiscretions, lies, and chicanery; but for a committed progressive, she had to do her part.

At first Xander did not rise to the bait, demurred when asked his opinion, and let the topic slide; but for Sally his response was a matter of honesty and pride.  Did he or didn’t he side with Donald Trump?

Xander’s routine was ruined, his coffee spoiled, his nap interrupted.  Why did his wife persist when she knew that at best he was diffident and at worst was cynically opposed to everything she proposed?  Sally on the other hand was bemused and then angry at her husband’s evasion of responsibility.  How could he not take sides in such important affairs? Did his nihilism have no bounds?

The continued to attend apolitical gatherings at the Cosmos Club and the Society of the Cincinnati, very proper, very comme il faut for Washington society and kept up their patrician credentials; but at home, in the bedroom, there marriage had been fatally infected by politics.  “How could you?!”, she said.  “How could you?”, he replied, and they went to sleep backs turned, irreconcilable and unhappy.

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There are many marriage counselors in Washington, but none able to break the Gordian knot of political difference.  “But you love each other”, the counselor said. “Doesn’t that count for something?”

“Nothing at all”, replied Sally, angry and insulted at the Hallmark card, insipid question.

At this point one would expect divorce – irreconcilable differences, no children, equitable distribution of joint property – but the Parsons were not just any couple.  How could a lineage on his side dating back to Hamilton and hers to Sir Walter Raleigh and the heroes of Albemarle really ever split up?  It was a matter of historical pride, of legacy, and right. 

There marriage might have been consummated as a union of love, but ended as a marriage of convenience rather than the usual other way around.  Unity, family legacy, and national heritage in the final accounting mattered more than political differences.

After all, marriage has always been a political affair.  If not an exchange of wealth, a resolved question of status, or simply the right social thing to do, then what was it?  Petrarch, the creator of romantic love has had his day; the courtly love he encouraged gone by the wayside; and even the most elite marry for the same reasons as the governed – for economic stability or promise, for sons, and for funerary rites.

So Xander and Sally buried their differences and of course in so doing buried what was essential in each of them; but within the broader perspective of proper social marriage and the essentiality of family, children, and faith. little was lost.

Sally read the daily papers and shared them with no one.,  Xander read Ishiguro, Greene, Faulkner, and the Book of Exodus with nary a glance at the Washington Post, MSNBC or CNN.  And so they finally reached a compromise.  None of Trump, Brexit, Kim, May, or Maduro really mattered that much.

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In the end, if not a happy couple, they were at least not an unhappy one.

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